Department of History
Roger Ekirch

A. Roger Ekirch
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
History Department
437 Major Williams Hall
220 Stanger Street
Blacksburg, VA 24061-0117
(540) 231-8381 - office
(540) 231-8724 - fax


Roger Ekirch is an award-winning author and a professor of history at Virginia Tech.  His writing has been translated into nine languages. Although colonial America and the American Revolution remain his teaching interests, his research has ranged widely to include European as well as American history - even the history of sleep, a more recent priority.

His latest book, Birthright: The True Story of the Kidnapping of Jemmy Annelsey (W.W. Norton, 2010), recounts the real-life saga that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel, Kidnapped. Set against the volatile backdrop of Georgian Ireland, Birthright resurrects an extraordinary family drama of betrayal and loss, but also endurance, survival, and redemption. The story is the centerpiece of a BBC television documentary, “Kidnapped” (2011), for which Professor Ekirch served as the program consultant and a commentator.

In addition to scholarly articles in such journals as the William and Mary Quarterly, and Perspectives in American History, his writing has appeared in the New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  He is a frequent book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal. Professor Ekirch has been interviewed on the BBC, CBC, “Morning Edition,” “Talk of the Nation,” “On Point,” “Weekend Edition,” and “Saturday Afternoon at the Opera,” as well as on “Book TV,” “The History Channel,” PBS’s “Points of View,” and the BBC's "One Show." His path-breaking work on the history of segmented sleep has revamped traditional assumptions about normal human slumber. With far-reaching implications for the study of modern sleep disorders, it has been profiled in publications ranging from the Washington Post and the Financial Times to Applied Neurology and the Smithsonian Magazine. The government of Japan has incorporated his research into national guidelines for sleep hygiene, as has the United Kingdom Sleep Council. "Many people wake up at night and panic," observed Professor Russell Foster, Chair of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford, in the BBC News Magazine. "I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern."  In an article in Scientific American Mind, Walter A. Brown, M.D. of Brown University Medical School marveled, “The source of this new assault on conventional thinking comes not from a drug company or a university research program but from a historian.”

Earlier books have included Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718-1775, published in 1987 by Clarendon/Oxford University Press, and At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past (W.W. Norton, 2005), a panoramic study of nocturnal culture before the Industrial Revolution (now in its seventh printing) which garnered four prizes, including an award given by the history honor society Phi Alpha Theta for the “best subsequent book” in all fields of history.  His article in 2001, “Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-Industrial Slumber in the British Isles,” in the American Historical Review, earned two awards, including the James L. Clifford Prize given by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. 

During Professor Ekirch’s career, he has received four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in 1981-1982 he became the first Paul Mellon Fellow at Cambridge University, where he taught in the Faculty of History and resided as a Fellow Commoner at Peterhouse.  In 1998, he was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship “on the basis of unusually distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.”

He received three awards from Virginia Tech in 2009: the Alumni Award for Research Excellence (the highest award granted by the university for faculty scholarship); the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Scholarship; and the Faculty Excellence Award, presented annually by graduate students in the Department of History. The following year, the Virginia Social Science Association bestowed its “Scholar Award in History.”

Personal Information

Roger Ekirch was born in Washington, D.C.  Raised in Alexandria, Virginia and Delmar, New York, he graduated cum laude with highest distinction in history from Dartmouth College in 1972.  Obtaining his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Johns Hopkins University, he arrived at Virginia Tech in 1977.  He and his wife, Alice, and their three children make their home on Sugarloaf Mountain in Roanoke County.  He is represented by the literary agent Georges Borchardt of Georges Borchardt, Inc., 136 East 57th St., New York, NY 10022.